Sophia was quiet and gracious throughout a good meal accompanied by even better wine. Now, unaccustomed as she was to drinking much in the way of alcohol, she was feeling warm and loose as she picked among the nuts and cheese remaining on the table.
“Miss Stephens,” she ventured, “why do you not take a public stand on the suffrage issue? Do you not agree that women ought to be given votes?”
Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “It’s obvious to me that women ought to be given votes. Why should I be touting so in public, do you think?”
“You are so well known. I wonder you don’t use your influence for an important cause,” Sophia continued.
Eleanor looked at Eden who was looking at Sophia with some wonder. She turned back to Sophia and smiled. “I doubt I have influence with anyone who doesn’t already agree with me. In fact, my opinion might well fuel the fire of those who disagree. I’m not really a very good example of the sort of woman the opposition holds as its ideal, am I?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Sophia admitted.
“Perhaps not,” Eleanor said, “but I gather you are a thoughtful girl as a rule. Eden tells me you had some criticism of Mr. Ellis’s book, for example.”
Sophia looked at Eden. But Eden looked carefully instead at the discarded crust of a dinner roll the kitchen maid had missed in clearing her place.
Sophia folded her napkin, placed it on the table before her and decided to be honest. “I do question the scientific value of conclusions drawn so much on the evidence of anonymous hearsay,” she told Eleanor.
“Well, perhaps not entirely anonymous. His wife is a acquaintance of mine in London. I believe some of the “hearsay” comes from her.”
“Oh.” Sophia blushed.
“Did you not find any of the cases familiar to you, Eden?” Eleanor turned to her young friend.
“I don’t know,” Eden said. She wished Eleanor had not brought the subject up. In fact, she knew, in spite of her demur, exactly what Eleanor meant by ‘familiar,’ but she was in awe of Sophia’s willingness to argue with Mr. Ellis on the quality of his science and she did not wish to appear to take his side against her.
Eleanor saw Eden’s discomfort. “Never mind, darling,” she said, rising from the table. “Do you think Miss Abington might be persuaded to play for us?” then to Sophia, “My piano is sadly underused. I almost never play myself these days.”
“I’m terribly out of practice,” Sophia said, “but I’m happy to try.” And she followed Eden and Eleanor to the music room.
Whatever Sophia had meant by “out of practice,” she did not hesitate to take a seat at the piano stool, and Eleanor and Eden had barely sat down when the very Chopin ballade that had inspired Eden’s tears in the music hall began to fill the room
Sophia’s little audience of two sat, both stunned, for somewhat different reasons, by her virtuosity. When the ballade was finished, she stopped and turned about to face her listeners.
Eleanor clapped and rose from her chair. “You didn’t tell me your friend was so musically gifted, Eden. To say she plays the piano is something of an understatement.” Then to Sophia, “What a shame you aren’t able to devote more time to your playing. Are you quite sure the field of medicine needs you more than the concert hall?”
Sophia shook her head slightly. “I don’t know that I’m needed by either, I only feel that I can do more good for the world as a doctor.” But she gave the piano a wistful look as she added, “it’s a fine instrument, though. It’s a shame it doesn’t get more use.”
Eleanor smiled. “Perhaps you could remedy that. It would be my pleasure if you would call whenever you like and play for me—or for Eden, if I’m not in town. The staff knows that the house is always open to her.”
“That’s so kind of you, Miss Stephens,” Sophia said, blushing a little.
“Not at all, darling—and please, you must call me Eleanor, just as Eden does,” she insisted.
“Eleanor,” Sophia said with a little smile.
Eden gave her hand to Sophia and drew her up from the piano stool. For a fleeting moment, they stood before Eleanor, hand in hand and she could see the unquakerlike effects of Chopin on their plainly enamored faces.